Monday, April 27, 2009

The Moon

Emmy is fascinated by the moon. She loves to look up into the night sky and find out what phase it is in or in her words "What shape is the moon today?" She laughs and laughs when the moon can be seen in the morning. "Mommy, the moon is supposed to be sleeping right now. Silly moon. Time for night-night!"

One of our favorite books about the moon is Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle. It is an absolutely delightful story about a little girl and her daddy. I am always drawn to a father/daughter book as there aren't many of them out there. As a long time follower of Eric Carle's work, I am always very excited to share his books with Emmy. With fold out pages and a pop out moon, Emmy just loves reading "Papa get the moon." Using tissue paper to create collages which are then glued to paper board, Eric Carle's illustrations seem to jump off the pages. Having tissue paper in your child's art area at home is a must. Given many oppotunities to cut and paste, your child will soon be creating wonderful creatures that he or she can write about just like Eric Carle. If you haven't included Eric Carle books in your child's book collection, please do so as they will be treasured for years and years to come. For more information on Eric Carle and his books check out his official website and if picture book art is something you'd like to see more of, plan a trip to The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Massachusetts. Click here to find out more.

Another wonderful book about the moon is I Took the Moon for a Walk by Carolyn Curtis with illustrations by Allison Jay. With poetic charm, Curtis allows the reader to step into a boy's imaginative outing with the moon. "I took the Moon for a walk last night/It followed behind like a still summer kite,/Though there wasn't a string or a tail in sight/when I took the Moon for a walk."

Allison Jay is an artist who truly understands the fun that can be had in a book for children. Jay's trademark oil paintings with their crackled finish reveal charming details not mentioned in the verse. For instance, the illustration for "I warned the Moon to rise a bit higher/ so it wouldn't get hooked on a church's tall spire." shows the moon losing one of its red slippers, when it bumps into the church's steeple, which the boy recovers in the next spread. Each verse ends dependably with the same eight words "When I took the moon for a walk." Adding to the appeal of this book are the notes at the end of the story containing facts about the moon's phases as well as nocturnal animals. Children truly are fanciful and imaginative beings and it is important to honor that, but just as important is to honor their 'here and now' personality by immersing them in what they can see, hear, smell, taste and feel in the world around them. When choosing books for your child, be sure to include pieces of non-fiction that display what your child can find in his or her own backyard.

An additional plug for Allison Jay! ABC: A Child's First Alphabet Book and Picture This are two of Emmy's earliest books and are still favorites today. I just love the way Jay's illustrations tell a complete story. Each time we reread these books, we discover something new and exciting to talk about. Another one of Jay's books, If Kisses Were Colors, I bought awhile ago and need to take off of the shelf and share with Emmy. I also keep meaning to add 1,2,3: A Child's First Counting Book to Emmy's collection. If I haven't mentioned before, I am a collector of children's books and love to collect many books by a single author or illustrator and Allison Jay is a definite must for me!

Friday, April 17, 2009

For the Love of Art

I am absolutely fascinated by the world of art, but I must admit that I am not extremely well versed in it. However, I do enjoy looking at art, reading about art and on occasion touching art. One of my hopes for Emmy is that she have an appreciation for art. We begin this appreciation by going out into nature. I use every opportunity I can to help her to notice the beauty in the world around her - the way a water droplet sits on the edge of a flower petal, the distinctive orange and black markings on a Monarch butterfly, the subtle shades of blue on the eggs nestled in a nest outside the window, etc. In addition to art in nature, this book loving mama is always on the lookout for reading material that will help both of us learn more. To enter the world of the masterpieces, I introduced Emmy to the Touch the Art series by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo. There are four books in the series (Make Van Gogh's Bed, Brush Mona Lisa's Hair, Feed Matisse's Fish, Pop Warhol's Top *Updated Feb. 2010 - Two new books have been added to the series: Tickle Tut's Toes and Catch Picasso's Rooster) highlighting the works of many well known artists. The first in the series, Make Van Gogh's Bed, is chosen most often in our house due to the inclusion of our favorite paintings by Van Gogh and Monet. Each book in the series gives the reader an opportunity to connect with each piece of art by including an interactive component such as glittery stars in Van Gogh's painting The Starry Night and soft water lilies in Monet's The Water-Lily Pond: Green Harmony. Maybe Emmy doesn't know that she is looking at the masterpieces of the art world, but she does know that she is looking at beautiful paintings. I am certain that one day she will see each of these pieces in person at the museums where they are being held and hopefully I will be right by her side!

In addition to books, Emmy has also been exposed to art through a wonderful video series that uses art to teach children about the world. Little Laureate's For The Love of Art is a wonderful look into the world of art. Emmy loves to watch as art comes alive in time to a fully-orchestrated score. With stunning visual effects, live footage and traditional animation, we watch as goldfish morph into a Matisse, and young artist's paintings become masterworks.

Another great resource for exposing young children to art is Aline Wolf's series Child-Size Materpieces. There are five books in the series each filled with postcards of famous artwork that a child can touch and manipulate as he matches, pairs, sorts and sequences. In addition to the postcard books, there is a parent/teacher resource book that is a how to guide for making the best use of the postcards. Emmy likes to look at and talk about the postcards, but isn't too much into the matching and sorting yet. In Emmy's bedroom, we have an inexpensive picture frame. Each week we fill it with a different postcard. Focusing on just one piece of artwork at a time seems to be the best for Emmy. This gives us a chance to really enjoy each piece of art and being in charge of choosing the postcard that goes into the frame gives her the biggest delight.

Lastly a shout out to MaryAnn Kohl who continues to create wonderful resource books for parents and teachers brimming with fabulous art ideas. Discovering Great Artists is full of art projects for kids teaching the styles, works, and techniques of the great masters—Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and more.

At this time, Emmy's artwork is filled with carefully constructed lines and circles which to me beats any piece of modern art out there! All this art talk has me planning a trip to our local art museum very soon!

Thursday, April 16, 2009


This past Christmas, Emmy asked Santa Claus for a tutu. As she really wasn't one to perform, her Daddy and I wondered where this idea came from. Silly grown ups! Of course the idea came from a book. Ballerina by Peter Sis had been in our collection for quite awhile before Emmy became attached to it, but once she did, her ballet aspirations took off at lightening speed! As a grown up who never experienced formal dance as a child, I was just as entranced as Emmy in this adorable book. It begins with a little girl coming home from school and immediately undressing and putting on her tights and leotard. From there her imagination soars as she digs through her dress up box and adds a few accessories such as a tutu, a turban and Emmy's favorite colorful
scarves. The most fun is to see the little girl look into her full length mirror and see herself as a mature ballerina dancing in a number of ballets such as The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. Emmy and I both love the way Peter Sis patterned the story beginning with a simple line-art illustration of the little girl in her colorless bedroom and continuing on with a two-page spread, the left-hand page giving a short descriptive sentence about the girl trying one colored item of a dance costume on and the right-hand page showing a corresponding imaginary view of the girl as an adult ballerina dancing in the complete costume along with a descriptive action word (stretch, reach, leap...). Ending with, as Emmy would say, "the best page ever" a fold out showing all seven of the previous ballerinas curtseying. As there aren't many books about ballerinas for young children, Ballerina is high on our recommendation list.

For our followers with a young boy, we haven't left you out. Check out Peter Sis' book Fire Truck for some fiery fun! In this book Sis celebrates a universally cherished childhood favorite—the fire truck—in simple, clean lines and smooth planes of color. And "the best page ever" for Emmy is a fold-out of the fire truck accompanied by a numbered list of items to look for that can be read as part of the narrative or returned to later as a find-and-count game.

In an interview with Barnes and Noble, Peter Sis shared a few anecdotes that I thought were fascinating and worth noting here:

"My first job in Prague was as a D.J. while still in art school. I did not take it seriously and perhaps, because of that, I ended up with a radio show, taping interviews in London with the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and many others. I also flew around Europe as an emcee of the Beach Boys."

"I painted a real egg (decorated with a map) for the cover of Print magazine that caught the eye of Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who was then an editor at Doubleday. This led to the book The Three Golden Keys. Then I received a phone call from the American Egg Board. They asked me to paint an egg for the White House. So, there I was, on Easter Monday, with my family, presenting a painted goose egg -- or was it a duck's? -- to President and Mrs. Clinton. One never knows!"

I think this is my new mantra, "One never knows!" Just put yourself out there and see what happens.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Black and White

The colors black and white create such visual delights when presented on paper. As someone who enjoys art, but don't ask me any questions, I am drawn to black and white photography and will often play with the many digital photographs I have of Emmy changing them from color to black and white and back to color again. Research tells us that babies prefer to look at high-contrast edges and patterns which explains the many baby mobiles made in those two colors. When Emmy was a baby she didn't have a mobile like that, but she did have three books by Tana Hoban which she really enjoyed: Black on White, White on Black and Black & White. In board book form with one picture on a page, these books are so visually appealing and great conversation starters.

Now that Emmy is older we've discovered a few more black and white books that we love to read. Published in 1980, the book Goodnight, Goodnight by Eve Rice is a favorite choice at bedtime. As night settles over a town, we watch as all of the people go about their nighttime activities including a kitten on the rooftop who is looking for someone to play with until he is found by his mother. "But all over town, Goodnight was creeping slowly with the dark."

Another favorite at bedtime is a book published by Peter Pauper Press titled Whoo's There A Bedtime Shadow Book. Grab your flashlight and get ready! Emmy loves to shine the images on her bedroom wall. Her favorite image is the little girl holding the kitty cat. It's amazing what adding a flashlight can do to your bedtime routine. Don't forget to try out some hand images on the wall! "I sat and I waited, and then I could see, all the nighttime creatures waiting for me."

The most recent addition to our night-night books is The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson. The story follows a cumulative pattern (think Hush, Little Baby and This is the House That Jack Built) based on the nursery rhyme This is the Key of the Kingdom which dates back to 1897. Maybe you remember it:

This is the key of the kingdom.
In that kingdom there is a city.
In that city there is a town.
In that town there is a street.
In that street there is a lane.
In that lane there is a yard.
In that yard there is a house.
In that house there is a room.
In that room there is a bed.
On that bed there is a basket.
In that basket there are some flowers.

Flowers in a basket,
Basket on the bed,
Bed in the room,
Room in the house,
House in the yard,
Yard in the lane,
Lane in the street,
Street in the town,
Town in the city,
City in the kingdom.
Of that kingdom this is the key.

With her own twist on this classic rhyme, Swanson succeeds in giving it a modern update that enables our imaginations to soar along with the girl as she travels into the world of a book. The illustrations in this book are stunning! Using scratchboard and watercolor, Beth Krommes creates a nighttime world of wonder. "Here is the key to the house, the house in the night, a home full of light."

While researching the beginnings of the original rhyme, I came across this fingerplay found in the book What'll I Do With the Baby-O by Jane Cobb that I think, with a bit of practice, I could successfully do with Emmy. In case you'd like to give it a try, here it is:

This is the Key to the Kingdom

This is the key to the kingdom.
(key—thumb/ kingdom—arms wide)
And in the kingdom there is a town,
(hands a foot apart)
And in the town there is a hill,
(hands curled over)
And on the hill there is a street,
(arms out parallel)
And on the street there is a house,
(hands peaked)
And in the house there is a room.
(Room—palms turned outward, thumbs touching)
And in the room there is a bed,
(one hand with the palm out flat flat, one hand up at a right angle)
And on the bed there is a basket,
(basket--cup hands together)
And in the basket there is a blanket,
(one hand over the other)
And under the blanket there is a BABY!
(hold out cupped hands as if something precious were inside)

Then, do the whole thing backwards:

Baby under the blanket,
Blanket in the basket,
Basket on the bed,
Bed in the room,
Room in the house,
House on the street,
Street on the hill,
Hill in the town,
Town in the kingdom,
And THIS is the key to the kingdom.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


On our latest trip to the bookstore, Emmy found a large board book version of Corduroy on the shelf. I was instantly taken back to my childhood! I LOVE it when I get to share a classic book with Emmy. I believe this book appealed to her because she loves wearing overalls and was curious about a bear wearing a pair. This reminded me of how important a child's interest is when selecting a new book.

Emmy is so proud
of her overalls.

With Corduroy and a few other books in hand, Emmy and I found a comfortable spot on the floor and started reading. I am continually amazed at the concentration Emmy will give to a book and Corduroy certainly held her attention. Have you ever dreamed of being locked in a department store at night? Corduroy paints a picture of the adventures that might unfold (for a teddy bear at least) in such a situation. Emmy's favorite page is when Corduroy accidently steps onto the escalator. "Could this be a mountain?" he wondered. "I think I've always wanted to climb a mountain." Since Emmy likes riding the escalator at the mall, we have another connection from real life to storybook.

Emmy is almost always
surrounded by a stack of books!

The author of Corduroy, Don Freeman, is an icon in the world of children's literature. Thankfully, his son, Roy, created a website that honors the full body of Don's work. This site is truly a testament to this man's character and influence on others. I am always intrigued to find out where authors get their ideas for books and will often share these insights with Emmy. She giggles when I tell her that the name “Corduroy” was a pet name that the author had for his son because when the boy was very young he used to wear corduroy overalls all the time. Sharing this sort of information with children allows them to see the person behind the book.

Corduroy is perhaps the best-loved bear in children's books and for good reason. With his simplicity and childlike emotion, this loveable bear is a friend for all ages. Corduroy is a great example of a book that can be passed down from generation to generation and never grow old.

Don Freeman

Don Freeman once told an audience interested in writing, illustrating and publishing children's books, “Simplicity is the essence of children’s book stories, not simple mindedness.” What an important message in this day and age of books penned after television shows and celebrity authors creating less space on the bookshelves.